Becoming a cultrepreneur: the first 3 secrets

I coined the term ‘cultrepreneur’ some years back to describe enterprising business people who consciously set about developing brands that are anti-scale, hard to find and fervently followed – cults. A number of people have asked me how you go about building a cult brand. So here’s my first three secrets:

1. Make something amazing, and then make it unavailable. Alright, not completely unavailable. But part of the secret of growing a cult brand is to grow the legend, and part of growing the legend is to cultivate a myth of short supply. With a cult brand, you always want to be making just under the market demand. Enough to cover costs obviously, but too little for everyone to be able to get hold of it easily. The thought of missing out intensifies the pleasure of getting and the desire to procure.

2. Nail the long tail. Cult brands appeal to those who think they know better about a particular subject, and who want more than what is widely available. The secret is in the discovery. So that’s about two things. First of all a product line that’s far enough off the beaten track to appeal to collectors rather than consumers. And secondly, something that takes some finding. That search for something special starts with a mention, a hint, a throw-away remark or endorsement – and that reference kicks off a journey that could end in a garage sale, a bar 400 miles away or at a club in the down-beat part of town. Cultrepreneurs are masters at leaving bread-crumbs for a journey that a passionate few will take. The challenges of course lie in where the crumbs are left and creating a journey that is enticing enough to persevere with.

3. Deliver what’s missing. Sometimes that’s about sheer quality, or a particular quality. It could be authenticity (in a market where everyone else is just putting up an appearance). It could be an irreverent attitude or just plain rudeness (in a market filled with stuffed shirts). It could be humour. It might be availability or recognition. Whatever it is, it isn’t seen by some as being there now, and there are enough people who want it, or who would want it, to inspire a cultrepreneur to make it happen. Almost inevitably, a cult brand is edgy, polarising and unafraid to fray a few nerves. Protest and outrage often act as fuel, and persistence, especially when greeted with derision by those regarded as the status quo, is read by brand followers as a sure sign of deep conviction. There’s a real skill in pushing that outrage far enough to keep it interesting without having it universally dismissed. Cultrepreneurs possess that sixth sense for being fashionably unfashionable.

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